Competing Perspectives on Philippine Security Relations and the West Philippine Sea Issue
By Roland G. Simbulan*
(Yonip editor’s Note: This is an uncensored version of the article that I contributed for the 2017 issue of the Journal of International Security, Beijing, China. The editors of the Journal wanted me to remove any reference to the “West Philippine Sea” and the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on UNCLOS at the Hague, Netherlands. The Hague international court ruled in favor of the Philippines and debunked China’s unilateral map redrawing called ‘Nine Dash Line” to claim 90% of the entire South China Sea. The Journal editors maintained that the issue is “very sensitive to the Chinese audience” and must deleted or not be included. I am posting this uncensored version of the article at Yonip.com to make sure that it comes out uncensored.)
Philippine decision-making on the South China Sea issue and the direction of Philippine-China relations will be the result of contentious struggle among various stakeholders and institutions in Philippine society which form a pluralistic debate on the determination of both domestic and foreign policy. Many of these stakeholders and institutions were created by the United States which continues to shape, and still strongly influence them as part of its empire-building project in the Asia-Pacific which started in the 20th century. But contrary to the traditional view, it will not be decided by external forces or interests but by the dynamics of internal power play by key well-entrenched Philippine institutions in place that determine the conservative and neoliberal economy, the pro-U.S. military establishment, and the progressive forces of the Philippine Left which are, at the current moment, still in a de-facto coalition government with the Duterte administration.
Keywords: Philippine-China relations, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea, Hague Arbitration Tribunal decision on the South China Sea, U.S. Empire-building in Asia, Philippine Security Relations, Philippine foreign policy under the Duterte administration
On September 16, 2016, the Philippines commemorated the 25th anniversary of the historic Senate rejection of the Philippines-U.S. Military Bases Treaty, which closed down the largest U.S. overseas naval and air force bases in the world and which up to that time, were in the Philippines. That historic event however, did not significantly alter the United States status as the strongest economic and military superpower in the Philippines.
For many Filipino patriots – nationalists and socialists, and the Philippine Left movement in general, foreign military bases presence, U.S. military facilities and U.S. troops on Philippine soil, are antithetical to independence. They were the most visible physical symbols of continuing colonialism and fake independence. Immediately after our 1946 independence and under the 1947 Philippine-U.S.
Military Bases Agreement, an estimated 250,000 hectares of arable lands with rich agricultural and mineral potential in 23 bases in 13 provinces – prime real estate – were placed under the exclusive and absolute control of the U.S. government. The original agreement was for the rent-free use of our territory for 99 years, later to be shortened in negotiations to expire in 1991 unless renewed by a new treaty. It was as if these lands were carved out and seceded from our sovereign control, making a travesty of our formal independence. (Simbulan, 1985)
Despite then President Corazon Aquino’s pro-U.S. bases position, the Philippine Senate in 1991 clearly took an activist and leadership role in directing the country towards a self-determined Philippine foreign policy in accordance with the command of the 1987 Constitution, when it made its Sept. 16, 1991 decision to close down the U.S. bases. This decision even defied mainstream public opinion 25 years ago, which generally favored the retention of the U.S. military bases. With the backing of a strong and unified anti-U.S. bases people’s movement, the Senate decided that it was the right decision to make. The Philippine Senate believed that this decision was in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution, and that the people would eventually realize that in due time, that it was the right thing to do to contribute to ending the Cold War in the region.
Analyses of the post-Cold War international system that continues to be dominated by the United States especially in the Asia-Pacific region have long overlooked Machiavelli’s construction of what he calls “liberal imperialism”.( Kegley, 2005) In his construction of international theory, Machiavelli’s citizens are splendidly diverse in their goals, but they are fundamentally unequal, seeking to be ruled, but fearing being dominated. Paradoxically, whether extending the rule of the dominant colonial power or dominant elite, or avoiding the political collapse of their state, they call for the embrace of a familiar imperial power and its expansion.
This paper is divided into three parts: (I.) the dynamics of stakeholders and key institutions in Philippine decision-making on foreign and security policies; (II.) the U.S. empire-building project in the Asia-Pacific and its continuing influence in the Philippines; and (III.) the prospects and challenges for an “independent and balanced ” foreign and security policy of the current Duterte administration in the Philippines.
Southeast Asia today lies at the center of power politics among major powers including the United States, China and Japan. The security environment in the area is essentially maritime as many countries are islands or archipelagos with long coastlines (Ball, 2004) The region is a significant part of the U.S.-dominated global political order, a militarist empire since the mid-20th century, where U.S. country-based political, economic and security structures have been put in place and continue to be entrenched in decision-making. These institutions define themselves in accordance with Washington’s lenses of “balance of power” regional and global domination. But the region is also becoming an active platform of unfolding multipolar relationships with U.S. economic influence perceived to be in decline relative to the rise of other powers, notably China. (Kaplan, 2014; Heydarian, 2016)
The general public in the Philippines has consistently become pro-United States and pro-Japan, the result of long-standing institutional conditioning as well as long-standing and sustained economic, political, military and cultural relations with the United States from the early 20th century up to the present. In the recent Nationwide Survey on Public Trust in Selected Countries and International Organizations conducted by the Pulse Asia Research Inc., dated Jan. 12, 2017, the result was that 76% of Filipinos felt “a great deal of trust” with the United States (and 23% distrust) ; with Japan having a 70% “great deal of trust”, while China reflected only 38% trust and 61% distrust. To summarize, the United States is the most trusted country in the Philippines; China is the least trusted nation in the eyes of Filipinos.
The recent above-mentioned survey results are only consistent with a comparative study of trust ratings countries enjoyed by Filipinos which cover more than two decades. In its report covering years from December 1994 to September 2016, the Social Weather Survey on Net Trust Rating of Countries dated Oct. 20, 2016 show that the U.S. enjoyed a +66 (Very good) trust rating by Filipinos; Japan + 34 (good); China -33 (Bad), and Taiwan +3 (neutral). These comparative national surveys are also consistent with an international survey on America’s Global Image conducted in 2015 by the Pew Research Cente where pro-U.S. sentiments received the highest favorable ratings among Filipinos (92%), followed by Ghanians (89%), South Koreans and Kenyans,(84%), Italians (83%) and by Israelis (81%). There is also the most recent Pulse Asia national survey done in late March 2017 indicating that 57% of Filipinos feel “insecure” with the way President Rodrigo Duterte is responding to China’s encroachments of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones(EEZ) and exclusive continental shelf (ECS).
The public opinion surveys reflect significant security perceptions by Filipinos, considering that there is an uninhibited flow of alternative but oftentimes conflicting official and unofficial viewpoints on the South China Sea issue. In this situation, various stakeholders – governmental, institutional and non-government – take a critical perspective, as they assert political participation in decision-making and the proper exercise of political accountability. This has been part of the Philippines’ continuing process of broadening and deepening its political democracy.
There are several divergent views by Philippine stakeholders on China-U.S. relations and South China Sea Issues. Public opinion surveys in the Philippines show various sectors’ differing positions on the maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea (SCS), part of which is the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Some seek the development path and find themselves increasingly in types of economic cooperation or interdependence with China. They however, take divergent positions on settling the maritime controversy with most increasingly aligned toward the United States, and with others tilting toward an accommodation with China on the other. These views are conditioned by their pluralistic perspectives as well as specific interests which are not always monolithic in both domestic and foreign policy. Several of these sectors are:
The Philippine government.
The Philippine government is not monolithic, given the system of check and balance and separation of powers among the three branches of government under the Philippine Constitution: The Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. The Executive and Legislative branches are in practice highly “politicized” agencies where the president, as head of the Executive branch with his discretionary control over government largesse, referred to as “pork barrel”, can sway the majority of legislators to support presidential initiatives. There have been some exceptions to this however: when former President Corazon Aquino failed to convince and sway her own allied Senators to support the retention of U.S. bases on September 16, 1991. This historic moment was also the great moment when the Philippine Senate in the exercise of its constitutional powers in the legislature, said NO! not only to Uncle Sam, but also to the president and was indeed a rare moment of Congressional independence. In contrast, the Judiciary, led by the Supreme Court, has historically proven that it can always exercise judicial independence when it comes to questions related to challenges to constitutional and international law issues law.
The Philippines, with a presidential type of government, has its president as the chief diplomat of the state. As head of state and government, the president both represents the country and is also the main implementor of laws and policies to be followed all throughout the Philippine jurisdiction. Late last year, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte announced a paradigm shift in Philippine foreign policy, that it would be “a balanced and independent foreign policy”. The new Philippine Ambassador to China, Chito Sta. Romana explained this shift this way in an interview with Richard Heydarian, in an article by Heydarian in “Under Duterte’s Shadow: Philippine Foreign Policy in Transition”,( published by SPARK, Quarterly Publication of the ADR Institute, March 2017):
“There are several key pillars of the new diplomatic strategy: improving relations with China and Russia; moving away from the country’s tight alignment with the U.S.; and strengthening ties with ASEAN, Japan and other neighboring countries. However, this strategic shift does not mean that the Philippines will abandon its treaty alliance with the U.S. or cut off its historic, cultural and economic ties with the U.S., nor does it mean that it will form a military alliance with China or Russia while exploring limited forms of military cooperation…. under this approach, economics, trade and commerce — and not territorial and maritime disputes — will define Philippine-China relations. The disputes will still be subject to negotiations but they will not be at the front and center of bilateral relations with China, nor will they serve as an obstacle to the improvement of bilateral ties.”
Thus, although the president in many ways is the country’s chief architect of foreign policy who negotiates treaties and international agreements, it would be wrong to state that the president is the country’s chief foreign policy-maker. The role of the Philippine Senate in foreign policy is defined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Its Sec. 21, Article VII gives the Senate the sole power to concur/ratify treaties and international agreements negotiated by the executive branch of government. To ratify a treaty, it must be approved by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate, otherwise it is deemed as rejected. Then, if any act or decision of the Senate or Philippine president is deemed unconstitutional by any group or individual, it can even file a petition before the Supreme Court, which can make a ruling on foreign and security policy with finality, based on constitutional grounds.
Thus, as we reflect on the 1991 historic Senate vote 25 years later in assessing perspectives on Philippine security relations and the South China Sea issue, hopefully, the current Philippine President and Senate shall be guided by the same state policies in the Constitution such as, “The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy…in its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.” There is also the constitutional policy that the Philippines, “consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.” Restoring U.S. military facilities in the Philippines under the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will only strain Philippine relations with China and complicate the South China Sea issue.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines/ Philippine National Police
Perhaps the most reliable pro-U.S. institution and organization in the country is the military and police forces. A creation of the United States Army in 1903, the Philippine military and police forces were created as adjuncts and the Armed Forces of the United States. Despite the granting of nominal Philippine independence in 1946, the officers’ corps of the military and police institutions continue to be trained, indoctrinated and armed by the United States by a series of security treaties and agreements among them the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, the 1947 U.S.-Philippines Military Assistance and Advisory Agreement, the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1999, the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement of 2001, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are closely attached to the U.S. Armed Forces which institutionally trained, armed and gives it advise, with U.S. counterinsurgency specialists embedded in the local armed forces in the guise of quelling unrest and terrorism. Thus, terror threats or any “national security threats” to U.S. interests are also considered threats to the local armed forces. After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. Special Operations Forces – small, mobile and highly trained units to wage a “global war on terror” have clandestinely fought side by side against the New People’s Army – armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and against the secessionist rebellion led the Moro Islamic Liberation Movement, as well as against the kidnap-for-ransom group, the Abu Sayyaf.
In many ways, the relationship between the Philippine military and the U.S. Armed Forces is symbiotic. Training, which includes not only war-fighting skills but also indoctrination in the U.S. National Security Doctrine, as well as logistics, heavily is dependent on the U.S. and its military assistance woven through a web of treaties and international agreements including secret military-to-military memorandum of agreements. (Simbulan, 2010) Since 1947, the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group or JUSMAG has acted as permanent U.S. military group to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police (formerly the Philippine Constabulary), assuring influence and de facto operational control over the local armed forces. This symbiotic relationship does not include the estimated 30,000 Filipino men and women who have been directly recruited into the Armed Forces of the United States especially the U.S. Navy, which operates in the world-wide coverage under the Global Unified Commands of the United States.
Because of its indoctrination and structural subordination to the U.S. Armed Forces, the Philippine military has consistently supported the U.S. policy of aggression as its foreign policy instrument, as well as the restoration of U.S. military forces in the Philippines. The military, as the most significant sector on security matters, has pushed practically all Philippine administrations after the Marcos dictatorship and despite the 1987 Constitution, in suspending the country’s “independent foreign policy, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination” by entering into shameful agreements like the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), the Security Engagement Board(SEB), and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which all practically undermine the spirit and letter of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. These agreements have granted special privileges and rights to U.S. troops entering Philippine territory, and which make the country a pawn of the United States in its so-called “Asia Pivot”. These agreements also accept the “global cop” role of the United States in the country and the region. Its puts the Philippines and its military forces back into the U.S. military infrastructure as a logistical and training support as well as a front line for the forward operations of U.S. naval and armed forces in the Western Pacific. Philippine-U.S. security relations assure that the country is used as a springboard for U.S. military operations against other countries. (Simbulan, 2010)
The U.S. naval or port visits disguised either as anti-terror exercises or humanitarian/calamity exercises support the continuing covert and overt operations and military operations in the country and abroad, by replenishing supplies, beefing up fleets or squadrons of the United States, providing rest and recreation for the “morale of troops”, stocking up on fuel and undertaking fleet repair – all to brandish the military might of the U.S. which provokes war against other nations. The Arroyo and the Aquino administrations allowed the U.S. to reinstall surveillance and spy facilities for regional surveillance especially in the island of Mindanao, with a full contingent of CIA/Defense Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency (NSA) personnel. In all these, Philippine military and police personnel provide the excuse for “joint military exercises”, but in fact provide the security guard role for U.S. forces operating in Philippine territory.
Because of the pro-U.S. and anti-communist orientation and indoctrination of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Duterte had to immediately visit all the major military camps to explain to them his intention of a paradigm shift Philippine foreign policy and to embark on serious peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines(CPP) while including their nominees into the cabinet of his administration and releasing 20 of their top leaders from detention so that they could be part of the peace talks. Duterte also visited the wake of dead soldiers and policemen and those who had been wounded in clashes with Communist rebels. From July 21 to August 12, 2016 , or in a period of less than a month, he visited 14 of the largest military camps in the country, promising soldiers better equipment, increased salaries and benefits, and his support for soldiers and policemen.
The Business Community
Dominated by the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ACCP), the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce and the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), the business community has traditionally been conservative when it comes to the harmony of Philippine-U.S. relations and hostile to threats to alter this status quo. These influential foreign business associations and institutions have long been the obstacles to an independent foreign economic policy, tying the Philippine economy to the transnational corporations of their countries. These have been the dominant forces seeking to change the 1987 Philippine Constitution and to continue imposing the neoliberal globalization policies on the Philippines to benefit U.S., European, Japanese and foreign corporate interests. Without a strong domestic economy geared towards rural development and national industrialization, there can be not material basis for long-term sovereignty and independence. And without an independent foreign economic policy, there can be no independent foreign policy. In contrast, the pro-China Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (FCCCP), although having among their members the richest individual businessmen in the country, i.e. Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, have historically lesser clout on Philippine policy compared to the American Chambers and European Chambers of Commerce.
It must be emphasized that many Philippine leaders and administrations bowed submissively to the impositions of foreign interests and swallowed the sugar-coated poison of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank (IMF-WB) duo which wreaked havoc on the Philippine national economy and has only brought further inequality and poverty to the country.
As we look at the Philippines today, our economic, political and security policies are making us the pioneer example of a dismantled nation-state in a borderless world. Perhaps, we can call this denationalization. And this also makes the country a pliant ally of a now borderless Armed Forces of the United States.
Foreign policy cannot be separated from domestic policy, but in fact, it is an extension of domestic policy, especially economic policy. After all, there is no point in promoting the national interest through foreign policy if that same national interest is negated by anti-nationalist domestic policies. But no national interest is served by being subservient to another country’s demands. After all, the purpose of opening and maintaining relations with other states is not merely to enable a country to play a role in global affairs. More importantly, the purpose of a country’s foreign policy is to enable it to meet its national requirements which cannot be met by national resources and domestic efforts alone.
People’s organizations, NGOs and Non-state actors
In the Philippines, the NGOs and people’s organizations constitute a formidable independent and autonomous force. NGOs and people’s organizations in the country have brought down through people power uprisings, two presidents widely perceived to be corrupt, while they were still in power: Marcos in 1986 and Estrada in 2001. This sector also influenced the 1986 Constitutional Commission after the EDSA People Power Revolution to include constitutional provisions prohibiting nuclear weapons on Philippine territory, including provisions for a self-determined and independent Philippine foreign policy, prohibitions which later became the legal instruments for the Senate rejection of the proposed Bases Treaty on Sept. 16, 1991.(Simbulan, 2009) The 1987 Constitution even gives them official recognition in two important provisions:
“The State shall respect the role of independent people’sorganizations to enable the people to pursue and protect, within the democratic framework, their legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means. People’s organizations are bona fide associations of citizens with demonstrated capacity to promote the public interest and with identifiable leadership, membership and structure”. (Section 15, Article XIII: Social Justice and Human Rights – The Role and Rights of People’s Organizations)
“The right of the people and their organizations to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political and economic decision-making shall not be abridged. The State shall, by law, facilitate the establishment of adequate consultation mechanisms.” (Sec. 16, Article XIII).
In the past three decades, especially after the 1986 people power revolt that brought down the 14-year Marcos dictatorship, the proliferation of people’s organizations has become one of the most prominent features of Philippine political life. In the eyes of the international NGO community, the Philippines is a “superpower” and a model of “civil society organizations” when it comes to NGOs and people’s organizations. Over the years, these people’s movements – which the Philippine military has long been accusing of being fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) , have been the people’s response to the inadequacy of the government in providing for the welfare of the citizenry. Whether they are CPP-led or not, they have played a crucial role in advancing the people’s demands toward social change. In fact, many people’s movements and NGOs in the Philippines are now even playing significant roles in building transnational solidarity alliances on debt relief, environmental protection, indigenous peoples, and women’s issues. They have also influenced the decision of the Philippine Senate in 1991 that removed the bases, as they continue to struggle against the Philippines’ military agreements with the United States such as the 1951Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
One of the most distinguished achievements of Philippine people’s movements and NGOs is the shaping of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which incorporates explicit pro-peace and anti-nuclear weapons provisions. This is because many key leaders of people’s movements and NGOs which brought down the repressive Marcos dictatorship in 1986 were appointed by the revolutionary government of then President Corazon Aquino to be part of the 50-member drafters of the new 1987 Philippine Constitution. Section 2, Article II of the constitution’s Declaration of Principles states:
“The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation and amity with all nations.”
Furthermore, the state policies enunciated in the same constitution include the following:
“The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination. (Sec. 7, Article II),
“The Philippines, consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.” (Sec. 8, Article II)
It must be emphasized that the real moving spirit on Sept. 16, 1991 behind the vote of the Philippine Senate on Sept. 16, 1991, to dismantle U.S. military bases was the broad and unified people’s movement. In the end, it was the power of the people that ended the most visible symbols of colonial legacy and the Cold War in the Philippines. It ended 470 years of Spanish and later, U.S. military bases – the largest U.S. U.S. naval and air force bases on foreign soil.
This year, the pioneering essay, IMPERIALISM, THE HIGHEST STAGE OF CAPITALISM, written by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by his revolutionary alias Lenin, commemorates its 100 years since it was published in 1917. It is considered a classical Marxist theory of imperialism, and as it surveyed the emergence and development of the world capitalist economy, gives added importance to the discussion of U.S. empire-building and the continuing strength and influence of the 21st century American empire in the Asia and the Philippines. It is important to analyze the various instruments of modern U.S. imperialism today, at a general, theoretical and empirical level to understand both U.S.-China relations and Philippine-U.S. relations. Historically, the United States’ interventions in China during the Boxer Rebellion; its invasion, occupation and colonization of the Philippines at the beginning of the 20th century; in Korea, from 1950-1953; and most especially in Vietnam from 1962 – 1975 have shown and exposed the true designs of the United States in the context of American the empire-building project in Asia. Today, these military interventions are continuing most especially in the Middle East and central Asia.
Lenin’s classic work, “Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism” sought to lay bare the essential nature of imperialism, and thereby to unmask the policies of imperialist powers, and the roots of imperialist war, and to show especially the working class that the way forward was by unity to defeat imperialism. Imperialism was defined by Lenin as the monopoly stage of capitalism. He demonstrated the special features of this monopoly stage as:
- the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high degree that monopolies play a decisive role in economic life;
- the merging of bank with industrial capital that creates financial capital and a “financial oligarchy”;
- the export of capital has developed, as distinguished from the export of commodities;
- international capitalist monopolies have been formed, which share the world among themselves; 5. the whole world is divided among the great imperialist powers.
Lenin traced the process of development of imperialist powers. He showed how the export of capital gives rise to the annexation of colonial territories, and to the subjugation of millions of colonial peoples to imperialist domination. The world is divided among the imperialists, he said. But no division of the world can ever satisfy them. For there is a “law of uneven development” which means that as some imperialist powers expand and outstrip others, they put forward the demand for a re-devision of the world corresponding to the new balance of forces. Hence, Lenin wrote, that imperialism is inseparable from imperialist wars. (Lenin, 1917).
Historically, Western imperialism has taken the form of tributary, mercantile imperialism, industrial, financial and militarism forms part of empire-building. The commercial ascendance of imperialism as a result of its consolidation, leads to manufacturing with finance capital, thereby destroying local markets in the colonized world. This rise of monopoly leads to inter-imperialist rivalry.
Many Asian countries especially the Philippines became one of the first victims of predatory and the primitive accumulation by European capitalists through plunder and colonization. But imperialism evolved itself from its mercantilist to its present multilateral form, as the growth of capitalism from the medieval mercantile system, through the industrial revolution, emerged with the hegemony of finance capital. In short, the Western economic system of capitalism created evolving contradictions that affected the character of colonial expansion. The changing and evolving forms of Western capitalism have been necessary features of Western capitalism’s resilience by containing its own crisis. It is therefore necessary to dissect the political, economic and military instruments of modern-day imperialism, most especially the United States.
Militarism and the U.S. global empire
The global empire of the United States today covers the world with nearly 800 military bases excluding secret bases, multi-lateral (NATO) and bilateral alliances, a dominant position in international financial institutions (World Bank, IMF) , the multilateral global trade organization (World Trade Organization) , and with U.S. transnational banks, investment houses and transnational corporations in the north and south Americas, Europe, Middle East, Asia-Pacific and Africa (Simbulan, 2016)
The U.S. global empire has resorted to militarism and state terror against national liberation movements and working class and socialist countries. It has promoted and supported militarist and authoritarian dictatorships that are allied to U.S. economic, expansionist and strategic objectives. This militaristic hegemony can be seen in the long historical context in the emergence of modern-day U.S. imperialism that was built on the foundations of genocide, murder and exploitation starting with the extermination of American native Indians to the atrocities and massacres committed against the Filipino in Samar and against the Moro peoples in Mindanao during the Philippine-American War (1899-1913).
The Asia-Pacific region is rich with the struggles of Asian peoples fighting Western colonialism and feudalism and who were met with the colonial state’s terrorism, and later by post-colonial regimes who adhered to the “U.S. national security doctrine.” Historically, U.S. imperialism and sections of the local elites who have been co-opted relied on national security laws to suppress the national and democratic aspirations of the people. Many of Asia’s national security laws have their origins in colonial emergency powers but these continue to evolve and have been adopted by the local elites to perpetuate their rule. And here lies the central question of the relationship between U.S.-led economic globalization and U.S. militarism.
The “blowback” from its military and political intervention in the Middle East especially its support for the Zionist police state of Israel, resulted in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This event was used as a pretext to declare a so-called “global war on terror”, and created a pretext for U.S. militarists to extend and justify the use of draconian national security laws and measures such as the U.S. Patriot Act to suppress the American people’s movement for democracy and human rights. These attacks that hit hard at the U.S. heartland and the very symbols and headquarters of capitalism and the U.S. military created events that were used to justify the aggressive military interventions, invasion and occupation by the United States of oil-rich countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. In the very heartland of U.S. imperialism as well as in countries with strong anti-imperialist states or people’s movements, militarism and the adoption of draconian measures became reactions to legitimate people’s demands and self-determination by their states.
We should note that in the last half of the 20th century up to the present, the United States has resorted not only to the hegemony of its transnational capital and its U.S. military forces globally. It is also engaged through the global media that it controls, in a hegemony of definitions, as in the case of “the war against terror”, where the enemy is defined as all those opposed to or are critical of U.S. imperialist globalization. Like it did against people’s movements, socialist states and national liberation movements which it demonized during the Cold War, it continues to resort to the hegemony of defining its post-Cold War enemy: “international terrorism”, and the “China threat” – no matter how vague and broad the definition. It even uses the shadow of its own creations like the Al Qaeda and ISIS or exaggerates China’s “hegemony” to sow fear among the world’s peoples so that they will accept or invite the U.S. armed forces to protect them.
But U.S. imperialism in the 21st century is today not only in a state of hegemony but in a state of crisis – both inherent characteristics of moribund capitalism (Lenin, 1917). The multiple crises of global capitalism are so acute that it suffers from the combination of crises in legitimacy, in overproduction, and over-extension. Liberal democracy itself is in a crisis so that even its best ideologues are beginning to abandon neoliberalism, and the election of rightist chauvinists like U.S. president Donald Trump. The disillusionment toward the neoliberal model has been compounded by instances such as the collapse of local national economies after following the International Monetary Fund’s neoliberal prescriptions to the hilt. So that now, imperialism must seek new enemies or threats to deflect and distract attention from this crisis. There is now a need to justify a more aggressive assertion of U.S. global power either under the banner of “a war against international terrorism”, or the brewing threat by the economic colossus, China, which is flexing its military muscle in the South China Sea to protect its sources of energy imports and raw materials.
Nevertheless, the United States is still the unmatched global military power, wielding its global power using its powerful navy in all oceans of the world. The U.S. Navy is its main instrument of global power projection to project, defend and maintain U.S. empire building. The U.S. Navy’s 11 aircraft carrier strike groups worldwide allow it to strike anywhere on our planet. Its huge naval or sea power are supported by a string of overseas military bases for logistics, repair, replenishment, training, staging area, military power projection, and storage of war materiel. (Simbulan, 2016) Also, afraid of the rise of China as an economic power and the perceived “build-up” of its armed forces, the U.S. has given Japan the role to be its military surrogate in Asia and, in the face of the weakening U.S. economy, to contribute more financially to U.S. operations in the Asia-Pacific.
With an estimated 800 to 1,000 military bases and the stationing of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops around the world, the United States – like the ancient times’ Roman Legions – have divided the world to defend the Empire into 10 Global U.S. Military Commands and placed all the U.S. military bases and troops under these Global
Commands. These U.S. Global Commands are the following:
- U.S. African Command – covering 53 African countries
- U.S. European Command – covering Europe, the former states of the USSR, Greenland, parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans
- U.S. Central Command – covers the Middle East, and the central area of the globe between Europe and Asia
- U.S. Pacific Command – covers north and west Pacific Ocean, South Pacific Ocean to Antarctica, China and India.
- U.S. Northern Command – covers the continental U.S., Canada, part of the Arctic Ocean up to the North pole.
- U.S. Southern Command – covers the Caribbean, part of the Atlantic, Central America and South America, down to the Antarctica.
- U.S. Special Operations Command – coverage and operations anywhere in the world where needed.
- U.S. Transport Command – coverage and operations anywhere in the world where U.S. troops, war equipment and supplies are needed.
- U.S. Space Command – covers all areas in outer space.
- U.S. Strategic Command – manages all U.S. nuclear “strategic forces” globally.
In the Asian region today, surrounding China and Russia are U.S. military forces deployed in U.S. military bases or through U.S. access agreements in countries like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, Guam, Singapore, Thailand and at Diego Garcia.
Today, the U.S. continues to arrogate upon itself to become the self-appointed “policeman of the world” and wantonly violates international law, the sovereignty of independent nations, and the UN Charter, branding its enemies as terrorists or terrorist/rogue states. And if its suits its own interests, the U.S. sometimes invokes international law, or so-called “international humanitarian law” to strike against other nations.
To monitor and eavesdrop on its adversaries – real or imagined – the United States relies on its 16 agencies and departments which comprise the U.S. intelligence community led by the Director of National Intelligence, which includes the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Of these 16 agencies and departments, we can say that the most powerful is the National Intelligence Agency (NSA) which though low profile, has the largest annual budget among U.S. intelligence agencies. NSA eavesdrops the entire world, and its mission is also to protect U.S. national security information systems and to collect and disseminate foreign signals intelligence and intercepts. The NSA maintains the most sophisticated and most technologically-advanced eavesdropping system that has ever been devised. Through a relay system of satellites and spook stations in Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada and the United States, the U.S. is able to intercept all telephone, fax, email, internet and cellphone transmissions worldwide. Its nerve center is located at Fort Meade in Maryland where the NSA maintains its headquarters.
The NSA of the United States has developed a global surveillance system, codenamed under various projects and programs, which is a powerful electronic net operated by supercomputers that intercept, monitor and process all phone, fax, and mobile signals. The European Parliament in a 1998 Report titled, “An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control” has listed serious concerns and has recommended an intensive investigation of U.S. -NSA operations directed at European allies. Ed Snowden, a former CIA/NSA technician turned whistleblower, bared U.S. spying on messages through NSA’s cutting edge surveillance programs such as “Mystic” which collects metadata and content from mobile networks in the Philippines, Caribbean, Mexico and Kenya, among other countries, where the U.S. gathers personal data on mobile calls and text messages. Snowden even mentioned that the U.S. Embassy in Manila is among the 90 countries where “surveillance facilities ” have been set up by U.S. intelligence units at its Embassy. A clandestine mass electronic surveillance data mining program called “Prism” has also been put in place to collect stored internet communications, reaching as far as Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Pnom Penh , Bangkok, Yangon, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Shanghai and other cities of China, according to CIA/NSA whistleblower Snowden.
It can be recalled that under the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the coverage for special privileges and criminal immunity includes not only U.S. armed forces personnel but also “civilian personnel who are employed by the U.S. armed forces and who are accompanying the U.S. armed forces.” These U.S. “civilians” include not just the private defense contractors but the technicians of the secretive U.S. National Security Agency like Ed Snowden which, during the existence of the U.S. bases in the Philippines, operated the spy communications facilities at Clark, Subic and Camp John Hay, among others (Simbulan, 1985).
Meanwhile, the CIA has been exposed as not only the covert overseas intelligence agency of the U.S. Empire, but as “an action-oriented” vehicle of American foreign and military policy engaged in assassinations, political destabilization and coup d’etat against other countries and peoples. The 1975 Committee Report of the U.S. Senate led by Senator Frank Church which investigated the CIA covert activities abroad revealed how countless foreign governments were overthrown by the CIA as in Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia and Chile. The CIA even had a hand in the military coup in Chile in 1973 that led to the death of the socialist president Salvador Allende who wanted to steer his country towards non-alignment.
CIA paramilitaries and U.S. Special Operations Forces are now tasked to assassinate high value “terrorist targets”. In recent years, the CIA has also used its killer drones to guard the U.S. Empire and its interests. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones fittingly named “Predators” and “Reapers”, are now managed by the CIA from its Virginia headquarters to engage in targeted killings or assassinations of those nominated “for lethal action”. Kill lists of individuals are kept all over the world, monitored and targeted for borderless strikes.
The Cultural Instruments of the U.S. Imperialism
The cultural hegemony of modern imperialism must not be overlooked or underestimated. The use of the so-called “soft power” which is often focused on the economic aspect like trade and foreign aid including loans, often neglects or underestimates the “winning hearts and minds of the world” through Mc Donald’s, Levis, Hollywood, Microsoft and other U.S. commercial icons which have captivated hearts and minds in a globalized environment. Meanwhile, the global media like the CNN dishes out imperialist propaganda 24 hours, seven days a week, and continuously advertises to the world the superiority of the “American way of life”. All this adds to the superstructure of a world already dominated by the U.S. military’s global hard power, and U.S. transnational corporations and banks. This is not just about the Americanization of eating habits.
We cannot underestimate this “soft power” – that dominates the mindset of many of the U.S.’ allied leaders, technocrats and local institutions — being effectively mobilized and used as an asset of this hegemonic superpower. The eminent sociologist C. Wright Mills had written:
“Culture in our cultural apparatus was no longer the spontaneous creation of the people but instead was an aspect of the organization and reproduction of social and political domination. If social transformation was at all possible, its protagonists were obliged to understand the process and distribution of key cultural forms. The most formidable part of this cultural apparatus is the educational system where artistic, intellectual and scientific work goes on.” (C. Wright Mills, 1954)
The economic system, according to Lenin, is driven by the accumulation of capital, that is, by an attempt by a small minority of persons who own society’s productive wealth to maximize both the profits and the growth of their enterprises. This capitalist drive is incessant and engulfs nearly every aspect of life in every nation on earth. The conditions of the global economy today also make us reflect on the centrality of the dynamics between the now globalized, integrated market economy, and the institutions that it has created to perpetuate itself. For in the academe, we see the neoliberals and neoconservatives giving birth to ideas to sustain it, how to supply the future managers for the capitalist system, and the arguments to rationalize the existing dominant capitalist order. Thus, the academe becomes the ideological home for the rationalizations and analyses for the “free markets”, and ” deregulation and privatization” which are hammered home in public and private universities. But our neoliberal friends and colleagues in the academe often neglect to tell us that their prescription is based on freedom for business but discrimination and repression for the laboring poor – the working class.
The grand ambition of imperial powers is to create a cultural infrastructure that would hold firm the dominant imperial policy frameworks that would shape the values, ethics and morality of the times, no matter how distorted. The core and fabric of American global media is to argue that imperial aggression and American values are for our own good.
Also, on the ideological battleground, is U.S. imperialism’s methodical efforts to secure effective legitimacy for American policy in other countries using the writings and interviews with American ideologues like Henry Kissinger, Samuel Huntington, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and Francis Fukuyama – to name a few of U.S. imperialism’s foremost contemporary rightwing ideologues. This has been a serious arena for U.S. hegemonic winning of hearts and minds both in the American heartland as well as the educated influential elites in other countries. Furthermore, they have long engaged in a “conservative revolution” for the 21st century waged by the most influential intellectual institutions or thinks tanks in the U.S. like Kissinger’s Harvard Center for International Affairs, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, among other institutions, which are well-endowed with hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government and corporate funds to specialize in the critique of government income-distribution programs, and rationalizing the conservative Right’s domestic and foreign policy. These ideas-producing conservative institutions have produced and disseminated their ideas through books, journals and even subtly, through Hollywood.
The biggest U.S. transnational corporations and the Pentagon have also offered to finance Professorial Chairs in most of the United States’ most prestigious universities to support scholars like Huntington, Kissinger and Fukuyama who peddle quality conservative thought. It would be just quite simplistic for us to dismiss their intellectual initiative and influence that still dominates the thinking of mainstream American and Filipino academics and even policy-makers. It is both a lesson and challenge to progressive scholars who must seriously learn how to counter this intellectual aggression and onslaught with their own original and distinguished intellectual work.
US Aid as an Instrument of Domination
U.S. military, economic and developmental aid has been an effective instrument of domination by the United States. It is used to control and influence local institutions and agencies of governments in many countries of the world especially the military, the educational systems and local business. The word “aid” is used instead of the more appropriate word “bribe” that better describes the intent of its acts. Imperialist forays and military interventions in many parts of the world – in Grenada, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Philippines, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Libya, and most recently in Syria are explained and justified as “peace operations”, operations to save democracy and preserve freedom, or otherwise made for “humanitarian” reasons, disaster response, or concern for human rights. Modern imperialism therefore, uses many guises, hides behind many masks. It would camouflage or hide its real foreign policy goals and objectives by emphasizing instead its intention of spreading democracy, freedom and human rights throughout the world. The aim is to cloak or to hide its real economic and strategic power goals.
The attainment of these objectives of course, are extremely detrimental and harmful to the peoples of captive nations under the orbit of the imperial power. In truth, they are very enticing to the native ruling elites who see the prospect of getting more wealthy, thereby increasing their power and dominance over the masses of the people that they rule if they join the imperialist bandwagon. The use of compliant native rulers – the mercenary elites, corrupt oligarchs, military dictators or just plain undisguised puppets who control the political, economic and military institutions of a nation – is another common technique of the dominant empire. Their names have changed through time – from the pejorative servants and vassals to rulers of protectorates and client states, to the more appealing “friends and allies” and “partners in defending democracy and freedom” in the world.
100 years after it was written, Lenin’s seminal work, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, continues to be a guide to our understanding of U.S. imperialism, unmasking its dynamics and motivations in the 21st century. It also unmasks its continuing actions of borderless murder and lawlessness around the world that would chill the bones of anyone who cares about justice, liberty and human rights. Lenin’s contribution to the understanding of capitalism’s tentacles in the global arena is scathing and effective in exposing and undressing U.S. foreign policy.
In short, imperialism has not really changed through the ages. It has attempted to change its stripes but it has retained its substance. The old Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish British, French and the American Empires have much the same policies, goals and objectives which are: the policy and practice of extending or expanding and domination over other nations, either by direct conquest to impose its authority and influence over captive nations, or both. This domination extends to all spheres of human activity – it seeks to impose its will on the economic, political, social and cultural life of the victim nation. Old imperialism does this mainly through the use of force, coercion, and intimidation. Modern-day imperialism uses a combination of methods, which have ben modified and improved, especially economic, cultural, and “aid” as already previously mentioned. These methods are largely influenced by the main engine which drives the imperialist expansion of global capitalism. Global capitalism is driven by greed for more and more profits:
- the control of territories that are sources of cheap raw materials to feed their hungry factories: oil and gas, iron ore for making steel products, copper, silver, tin, nickel, manganese, etc.;
- the control of sources of cheap labor mainly from Asia, Africaand Latin America as its main targets’
- the control of areas in the world where excess capital can profitably be invested, generating vast wealth and super-profits which they bring home to their home countries while leaving the masses of peoples in the countries that it exploits, poor and hungry and their land devastated and robbed of its natural wealth and resources; and
- the control of profitable markets for their manufactured goods, for business and for trade, usually the densely populated countries of the world with the targeted buying power.
If we do not learn from these, we will continue to live in the specter of fear that our young generations will again face the prospect of being used as canon fodder in what Lenin called “inter-imperialist wars” between imperialist countries at the highest stage of their capitalist development. In our modern age, these will be wars where there are no borders, and with destructive consequences that are unimaginable, especially if nuclear wear becomes the option.
The nine-month old administration of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte who assumed the leadership of the country in July 2016 has made pronouncements and public statements to pursue an “independent” and “balanced” foreign policy. During the early months of his ascendancy as Philippine president, Duterte declared: ” I will be charting a new course for the Philippines on its own and will not be dependent on the United States. ” For Duterte, China is a bargaining chip for U.S.-Philippine relations so that the Philippines can gain more concessions different from the previous one-sided treaties and agreements from its former colonizer. Also, for Duterte, the United States is the Philippines’ bargaining chip in China-Philippines relations. It does imply that if China does take a hard-line position in the South China Sea regarding its “Nine Dash Line” claim, then the Philippines can also go back to the tight embrace of the United States which is all too willing to be the enforcer of international law based on the 2016 decision of the Hague Arbitration Tribunal on the South China Sea issue. But this also means that strengthening Philippines-China ties do not imply a weakening of strong, historic U.S. bonds with the Philippines.
The Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines(CPP), its New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front, its united front underground organization, are known to have strong influence on the mainstream NGOs and peoples’ organizations. During the Mao era, the Maoist CPP-NPA had close fraternal ties with the Communist Party of China (CPC). The CPP-NPA and its allied organizations have consistently been advocating a genuinely independent foreign policy free of U.S. military bases and troops since the 70s during the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. In its program, the CPP’s revolutionary united front alliance – the National Democratic Front of the Philippines(NDF-P) describes the feature of its foreign policy as ” the termination of unequal treaties with the United States and other foreign entities, and renegotiate foreign investments and loans on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.” It also seeks to “maintain a non-aligned, independent and peace-loving foreign policy.” The NDFP is composed of the following underground revolutionary member organizations:
Federation of Workers’ Associations
Revolutionary Council of Trade Unions
National Union of Peasants
KABATAANG MAKABAYAN (Patriotic Youth)
Nationalist Movement of New Women
Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)
Christians for National Liberation (NPA)
Cordillera People’s Democratic Front (CPDF)
KAGUMA (Patriotic Teachers’ Federation)
Patriotic Health Association
New People’s Army (NPA)
Artists and Writers of the People
AGHAM BAYAN (Scientists and Technologists for the People)
Moro Revolutionary Organization (MRO)
COMPATRIOTS (revolutionary organization of overseas Filipinos)
On July 2016, President Duterte appointed several NDFP-nominated and left-oriented officials in his Cabinet, mostly in social welfare, agrarian reform, education, labor, urban poor and anti-poverty departments and agencies. The progressives in the Duterte Cabinet are a minority, however, but he also listens to them. The progressives in the Duterte cabinet are still “out-balanced” by pro-U.S. retired military generals, neoliberal technocrats/economists and businessmen and college classmates and fraternity buddies.
During the 2016 presidential campaign for the Philippine presidency, Duterte boldly described himself as a “socialist”, and he has said that, if he is elected, he will be the first “Left” president of the Philippines. He has declared his admiration for his former professor during his college days at Lyceum – the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines Jose Ma. Sison, and whom Duterte has invited to return home from exile in Europe. Duterte is well known not just as an unorthodox leader who talks “outside the box” but also a leader who acts – who “walks the talk” – that is his reputation as Mayor for 22 years in Davao City. As mayor, he has had a good working relationship with the Philippine Left – both armed and legal, in Mindanao.
As for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), peace talks are also in full swing, though the MILF or Muslim secessionist movements has never really been clear about their stand on Philippine-U.S. relations, Philippine-China relations or the South China Sea issue. The MILF and secessionist movement has been treated more of an internal security problem by the Philippine government. Its impact on Philippine security thus has largely been internal, though the Philippine government has had to grapple diplomatically with the supporter countries of the MILF among members of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). The internationalization of the local Muslim secessionist groups has largely been through the Islamic solidarity given to it by other Islamic countries and groups around the world, as they are also returning – with reciprocity – the Muslim solidarity extended by local Mujahadeens from MILF and local Muslim secessionist groups to Muslim Mujahadeens in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other parts of the Middle East.
Economic policy, security policy and foreign policy however, remain in the hands of known business conservatives, pro-U.S. technocrats and retired military officers trained and indoctrinated in the United States who will assure the continuity of the neoliberal economy and pro-U.S. security and foreign policy.
The government is currently in peace talks in a third country overseas and the CPP/NPA/NDF have included “an independent foreign and security policy” without ANY foreign bases, facilities or troops, and an independent economic policy in their agendas for a Comprehensive Agreement for Social and Economic Reforms(CASER) and a Comprehensive Agreement for Constitutional and Political Rights (CACPR). Whether these agreements tabled in the on-going peace talks will be agreed upon mutually and implemented remains to be seen given the dominance of institutionally conservative elements in the Duterte cabinet. There is an optimistic air in atmosphere because, as this paper is being written, the 4th round of negotiations and peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines are being concluded. But given how Philippine institutions are made relative by their conservatism that is tied to U.S. interests and the oligarchy – and instability – many still doubt whether this can be sustained on the ground.
In conclusion, the convergence of popular and governmental perspectives regarding China and the South China Sea issue in the Philippines are as much the result of what is publicly perceived as China’s intrusions into the Philippines’ “West Philippine Sea” based on the Hague’s International Arbitration Tribunal Ruling, as well as the negative impact of the “soft-power initiatives” by China especially during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when at least 70 China-Philippines bilateral agreements were signed. These agreements did not improve popular perception with China but had the opposite effect: This was rightly confirmed by a Wikileaks release of leaked Confidential U.S. Embassy Cables which were based on an assessment of the public perception in the country (UNCAS Section 01 of 04 Manila 000998: Subject – Limits of Chinese Soft-Power in the Philippines):
“China’s soft power diplomacy has recently stumbled in the Philippines under a months-long media barrage of corruption allegations and scandal investigations. This has occurred against the backdrop of a ten-fold increase in bilateral trade since 2000, increased security cooperation, and the signing of dozens of bilateral cooperation in recent years. In spite of the influence wielded by Filipinos of Chinese ancestry, recent scandals have reawakened long-held views among Filipinos that link ethnic Chinese to corrupt practices in mainland China.”
Machiavelli’s liberal imperialism of the United States will likely prevail in the Philippines. Its conservative political, economic and military institutions will assure the continuity of U.S. dominance. But there are stronger reasons that the status quo will not be altered, albeit president Duterte’s strongly-held personal opinions publicly critical of the United States. That polls consistently show that a majority of Filipinos view the US as the Philippines’ most trusted ally, both now and in the past. This is also an indication that the Philippines’ major institutions in both government and private sector are not foreseen to drastically change their current views, perspectives and policies on security relations with China and the United States, nor about the South China Sea issue.
Cooperative economic, cultural and political relations must be enhanced with all neighbors through adopting mechanisms in the regional and global setting in building confidence and promoting healthy consultations and interactions to address territorial disputes. Likewise, strategic goals must be strengthened with other nations in cooperation with international and multilateral institutions in the economic, political, security and cultural fields.
It is obvious that the Philippines still has a long way to go before it can live up to the Constitutional provisions on an independent foreign policy which it should be applying in its security relations and the South China Sea issue. This is a primordial challenge for the Filipino people and its current government under President Rodrigo Duterte.
It is also quite plain that the existing Philippine institutions and sectors that this paper mentioned, on their own, will not agree to a convergence of their perspectives to realize this ideal. Since domestic policy favors foreign influence and control firmly captive in the context of the security and economic Empire-building of the United States, as evidenced by blind obedience to neoliberal economic prescriptions to U.S. sponsored strategies, among others, foreign and security policies would logically follow suit. Also, the local political economy and its needs have to be factored in the discussion of Philippine security policies and perceptions.
Authentic national sovereignty and a truly independent foreign and security policy arise directly out of the requirement of the national interest. The national interest is the guiding principle in determining our relations with other countries. The national interest must however, reflect the people’s interest, not only the interest of the affluent and influential few sectors of society. The 1987 Philippine Constitution upholds multiple alignments, “amity with all nations” – that place importance on economic and social cooperation, and not on military rivalry, nor obsolete Cold War legacies like military alliances.
Philippine national interest will put into consideration the fact that the Philippines does not want to be a collateral damage or battleground to U.S. vs. China rivalry in Asia, specifically the South China Sea. Philippine national interest is also placing doubt on U.S. commitments under existing bilateral security treaties and agreements because of the U.S. failure to stop China’s reclamation activities and assertiveness in the South China Sea. But Philippine national interests will also think about the grave security risks that U.S. EDCA bases in the country as U.S. launching pads to attack China – a situation that will also make the Philippines a potential target of China’s conventional or even nuclear ballistic missiles targeting U.S. EDCA bases on Philippine soil. (Corpus, 2016) In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan. 31, 2017), President Duterte warned that the U.S. is prepositioning its military weaponry on Philippine territory under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), “in case America engaged China in a shooting war over the South China Sea dispute.” Duterte also added that these U.S. actions “could put the Philippines in extreme danger because of the posturing between the U.S. and China”, thereby dragging the Philippines into their armed conflict with the Philippines becoming a target of incoming ballistic missiles from China to attack U.S. forces in the Philippines.
Philippine national interests may also consider the huge economic benefits of its own Philippine pivot and rebalance:
- the better terms offered by China such as those under the BRI, AIIB, SRF and BRICS Bank;
- the potential huge China market for Philippine agricultural products, Chinese investments and the influx of Chinese tourism in the country;
- the potential of the Philippines’ being included in the economic belt and maritime road – “one road, one belt” – that will put the Philippines as part of the epicenter of global trade.
In principle, countries are equal in sovereignty. This basic principle underpins foreign policy of any nation. The challenge of each country is how to assert its sovereignty in the face of imbalances, whether in the military or economic sphere, because countries are not equal on these areas. To effectively address this challenge, the national interest must be clear to the nation’s leaders and people, and if there are differences, this should be negotiated bilaterally. If this is not possible, then rules-based international conventions to which countries have committed themselves must be respected.
Thus, when the Philippines asserts its own national interest of maritime issues based on international conventions as when it filed the arbitration case against China in 2013, this must not be viewed by China as an action where the Philippines is acting as a pawn of the United States in initiating the case, and as part of the U.S.’ pivot or rebalancing strategy to Asia. The Philippines’ action in the South China Sea is motivated by its own interests in terms of the livelihood of the Filipino people where it is estimated that 22% of the country’s fisheries catch; the area covered by the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Exclusive Continental Shelf (ECS) contains the Philippines’ sources of natural gas such as the Malampaya natural gas facility north of Palawan island.
To put into practice an independent foreign policy is a good step for the Philippines. Maybe it is indeed the perfect time to declare ourselves free from the clutches of the United States as President Duterte announced publicly before foreign and domestic audiences. Though it must be emphasized too that independence in foreign policy is already a vital directive enshrined in the Philippine Constitution.
The Philippines regained a semblance of pride when the current President Duterte declared his attempt to reinforce an independent foreign policy. For too long, the Philippines has been considered as a pawn of the United States, an image which has caused the bilateral relations between China and the Philippines to be downgraded. Thus, the declaration that the Philippines will wrest independence form its supposed overlord is a declaration long overdue.
An independent foreign policy for the Philippines would be beneficial not only for the Philippines and its people. It may also help ease the tensions in the South China Sea, and the Philippines may become a de-facto third party arbitrator in any potential conflict between China and the United States.
First, pursuing an independent foreign policy would mean that the Philippines is finally considering its national interests first and foremost, thus presumably leading to the betterment of the people.
Second, strengthened ties with China and the U.S. will ensure an equal and beneficial exchange of goods and services that will boost our economy. The way this will be achieved, is through increased investment and commercial deals with other nations, as well as government focus and support to create an invigorated industrial economy.
When considering the current state of affairs, renewing “fresh” bilateral relations between China and the Philippines by the Duterte administration requires adjustments on both sides to show their willingness to cooperate. Previously closed avenues in foreign policy are opened to make way for this new development.
In our own region, the Philippines must pursue stronger relations with its ASEAN neighbors so that collectively, ASEAN can resolve issues that affect member countries including overlapping claims in the South China Sea. The 1995 Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty, which is very consistent with the Philippines’ constitutional declaration of freedom from nuclear weapons its its territory, must be given more muscle. The direction is towards a region collectively secured by the ten ASEAN countries that rely less on nuclear-armed external forces to secure their respective territories and exclusive economic zone (EEZs) under international law.
But the Philippine government can only bow, ultimately, to the will of the people. If the directions are clear and all the progressive forces are united and led by strong- willed, principled political leaders, and sufficiently organized to pursue them enough to tilt the domestic “balance of forces” in their favor, then it is possible to reach a critical mass and to make some changes, no matter how limited. This is what happened on September 16, 1991 when the Philippine Senate rejected the U.S. Military Bases Treaty and said NO! to the most powerful superpower on earth. That act shut down the largest overseas naval and air force bases of the U.S. Empire in the Asia-Pacific without firing a single shot.
The unity of enlightened leaders, diplomats, legislators, academics, the military establishment, business sector, and other sectors, in support of initiatives to enforce 1987 Constitution, is essential for the emergence of an independent foreign and security policy as a powerful instrument of an independent people.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Roland G. Simbulan is Professor 12 in Development Studies and Public Management at the University of the Philippines. He served as Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development, University of the Philippines and was elected Faculty Regent in the Board of Regents of the U.P. System. A former senior consultant at the Philippine Senate on defense and foreign relations, he has written a total of eight books on Philippine-U.S. security relations and Philippine Foreign Policy. One of his books on Philippine foreign policy was translated into Japanese and published in Japan in 2012 with the title Firipin Minshu Vuiesu Beigun Churyu. He is currently the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg), a public policy think tank.